Personal Branding for Archaeologists, Part V: Blogging your way to Infamy

(This is the fifth segment in a multi-post series dedicated to personal branding for archaeologists. In case you missed ‘em: Part I discussed the many reasons why you should care about developing your personal brand, Part II covered creating a killer LinkedIn profile, Part III talked about using Twitter to connect with others, Part IV focused on using a personal website as the hub for your brand. This post discusses how blogging can help your brand move forward.)

Here's a productive strategy for archaeology bloggers worldwideIn late 2013, I was asked to contribute to a landmark book dedicated to the emergence and proliferation of archaeology bloggers around the world. The book, Blogging Archaeology, was based on a symposium at the SAA2014; however, the resulting publication expanded beyond the symposium presenters. It was an international collaboration between 16 archaeologists that actively maintain blogs. I had no idea what to expect from this project, but the result was truly astounding. The editors of Blogging Archaeology penned this excellent summary of our efforts:

“What resulted is one of the most unique pieces of writing the field of archaeology has seen in a long time, and we would argue has ever seen in such a formal publication as a book. When have you seen an author alternate the language a section is written in? Each author presents a style of writing that is uniquely their own. You will find some papers used footnotes to express additional ideas in sentences, (while others used brackets) — or dashes –. Each of the author’s voices comes out in unique and very discernable ways, like what one would find on archaeology blogs. Essentially, all of the authors were given the subject of blogging and social media and asked to present to us how they wanted to.”

Doug Rocks-Macqueen and Chris Webster, Introduction to Blogging Archaeology (2014:7) (The eBook is available for free download. Get your copy today!)

Blogging about archaeology has become somewhat mainstream. It is an excellent way for us to express ourselves in a dynamic and engaging way. Archaeology blogging is also an effective way to reach out to the rest of the non-archaeology world. It is a means for us to collaborate, connect, and form communities of practice that have a very real way of changing the way the world thinks about human pasts.

I honestly feel like archaeology blogging is changing the nature of how we convey what we know about the past. It’s also changing what it means to be an archaeologist. Of all the previous topics in this personal branding for archaeologists series, using LinkedIn, Twitter, and maintaining a personal website, I believe archaeology blogging is the most fruitful and beneficial way to tell the world who you are, what you’ve done, and what you think.

This post is the fifth in a series called Personal Branding for Archaeologists that was conceived from a webinar I attended recently called “How to Build your Personal Brand Online”. The webinar was given by Christine Hoekenga and Jaynelle Ramon who were working on behalf of the Human Resources Division of the University of Arizona. You can learn more about these talented professionals in the bio I wrote about them in Part I of this series.

What Can a Blog Do for Your Personal Brand?

While I firmly believe blogging is one of the most powerful tools archaeologists have at our disposal, this blog post series is about personal branding online— crafting a professional identity using the internet. Here are a few of the ways blogging can increase your notoriety on the internet:

— Creation of a strong personal brand— I’ve been going on and on about keyword targeting because it’s important to the way search engines and social media platforms index digital content. But, it’s extremely easy to start treating your LinkedIn, Twitter, and personal website like an online resume where you continue harping on a few themes. Blogging allows you to add substance to the key topics you’ve been focusing on.

Blogging is also one of the best ways to solidify your personal brand because it gives you a chance to express your thoughts and feelings in a sincere, connectable way. Hope Jensen Schau, Associate Dean of the MBA program at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Business, recently informed me that branding is a PROMISE. A promise of a certain values and/or characteristics that need to be reified all the time. Maintaining a blog is one way you can keep reminding people what you’re all about.

Brands use their name, keywords, logos, and symbols to convey a promised identity that is conveyed through their marketing and behavior as corporate citizens. For instance, what do you think of when you hear the words North Face? Or, Carhartt? What about Disney? It’s difficult to explain but these branded companies have a certain, finely tuned persona that instantly enters your mind the minute their company name is said out loud.

Personal branding works the same way. Of course, we don’t employ actual commercials or marketing plans, per se, but your online branding efforts should be designed so that your professional identity is easily known to anyone who follows you on social media, visits your website, or subscribes to your blog. Blog posts are an excellent way to create a distinct persona because, online, other people think what you say and do is who you are. Your actions and words are evidence of your promise to others.

— Allows you to explain your skills and experience in a more detailed way— You can’t go into too much detail about exactly how you’ve used your skills and experience to complete projects on a LinkedIn profile. A Twitter post gives you even less of an opportunity. A personal website gives you a slightly larger chance to fill in the details, but a blog allows you to really dig deep and give explicit detail. You can use your blog posts to really demonstrate mastery of your craft— something that can’t be done in most other digital mediums.

— Build a cadre of true followers— People will read your blog because they’re interested in what you’ve got to say. They may read your posts because of who you are, as in a student reading the prof’s blog, but most readers actually care about your perspectives because they find them interesting or entertaining, or both. These readers may be different than your Twitter followers or LinkedIn network, although they may also be part of both spheres. Blog readers feel a connection with your work, your thoughts, and your ideas. They care because you’ve connected with them in a special way.

— Improve your search engine optimization (SEO)— As I mentioned in the post on building a personal website, a blog gives you a constant opportunity to associate your name with the keywords you’re targeting. Your blog posts, tag cloud, backlinks, and other digital crumbs are eagerly lapped up by search engines that are hungry for data. This gives you an unparalleled opportunity for SEO that will rise your name to the top of search engine results.

Archaeologists can better connect through digital publishing

— Increase your reach— Do you want other people to know about your research or project results? How about your ideas? Wouldn’t it be nice to spread information around the globe in an effort to initiate meaningful dialogue about relevant topics in archaeology?

Guess what? You probably won’t do that through an academic journal article. Your voice will definitely be muffled if you publish a book with an academic press? But, you can easily reach thousands of like-minded individuals in a meaningful way through your blog.

Why is that?

There are almost too many reasons to list. Your blog is freely available via the internet. A blog post about your most recent theory can be penned on lunch while sitting next to your excavation unit. By the end of the day, a half dozen fellow archaeologists could have already given you useful critiques and insights about your thoughts. Journal articles take much longer to get to press (we’re talking months to years). Journals are also hidden behind paywalls and other barriers that limit the circulation of your work. Book publishers are even worse. Who pays $150—200 for an archaeology book? A couple university libraries, that’s who. And, in order to access this breaking news, you’ve got to be either a professor or university student. Over 90% of archaeologists are CRMers who have to pull jack moves to access journal articles or get books through interlibrary loan.

Finally, most academic press books have a print run of 1,000 or fewer. They typically don’t even sell all of those copies, which means your work won’t even be read by 1,000 people. There are over 7 billion people in the world. There are over 17,000 professional archaeologists in the United States and I can almost guarantee they don’t read even 1% of the archaeology books or journal articles published each year. Reaching 1,000 readers is a pretty small piece of the pie.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen wrote a blog post that revealed, between 2011 and 2013, paleoanthropology professor John Hawks was reaching over 21,000 blog subscribers with each post he wrote. Conversely, the most often downloaded article in the journal World Archaeology had only 1,200 views in… 12 years! I don’t have anywhere near as many subscribers as Dr. Hawks or Mr. Rocks-Macqueen, but my most frequently read blog post, “When archaeology field techs have to teach PhDs how to do archaeology”, was read by over people 4,000 in 2 weeks! That’s more than the most popularly downloaded article in World Archaeology got in over a decade.

Blogging is the best way to spread information about archaeology throughout the industry. If you write an oft-quoted post, you will probably be getting more attention than your best academic journal article ever will.

— You can get a book deal— Writing increments of your next book is another way to think about blogging. I know you’re thinking, “Why write a book if blogging is so much better.” Well, you won’t get much money from publishing a blog post-based archaeology book but you will get prestige, which is pretty much the only reason any archaeologist should publish with an academic press or in a journal. Tenure committees don’t care about blog statistics, but they really care about getting little-read books published. I know at least one archaeologist that got his published simply by submitting a blog post series he’d written. I also know a well-known, widely published and well-respected professor that recently got two book offers based on blog post topics. Polishing up blog posts is an excellent way to get published.

Not only can you turn posts into books, you can also get an excellent idea of what your followers want to read based on the page views and comments to your blog posts. This can tell you what books they’d like to see published. Based on my most popular blog posts, I’m pretty sure archaeology students are interested in learning CRM skills so they can get jobs after graduation.

— It’s an awesome way to improve your writing skills— Even if nobody ever reads your stuff, blogging is an awesome way to improve your writing capabilities. This is important because technical writing skills are the number one most desirable skillset for young CRMers and archaeology academicians. The writing style is different for blog posts than it is for archaeology technical writing or journal articles, but the act of frequently writing makes it easier for you to be able to write on demand and turn your thoughts into words. Blogging is important exercise for your body and mind.

Where to start? What to do?

I’m not going to lie. Blogging is one of the most time consuming paths of personal branding you can embark upon. I spend anywhere from 2 hours to 10 hours a week writing blog posts, some of which have only been read by 10—20 people! It can be a thankless job until you hit a home run with one of your posts that resonates with people around the world. Writing a blog post that gets covered by other bloggers or a news outlet is an exciting experience that only bloggers know about.

There are almost as many different ways to blog as there are types of people in the world. What works for me may not necessarily work for you. Blogging is also a skill that changes over time, so it’s best to jump in the water and start writing in order to see what works for you and your readers.

If you want to become a blogger, you will need a website and you will need a template that has some sort of blog component. As I mentioned before, I’ve only used WordPress themes that had easy to use blog pages. (Check out the last post in this series, Part IV, if you want the low-down on creating your own website.)

Despite the variations in blogging styles, written blog posts have many similar characteristics. Once you’ve gotten your website up and running, you’re in business to become a blogger. Here are some things I’ve learned during my last 3 years as an CRM archaeology blogger mixed in with some tips discussed in Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett’s influential “how-to” blogging book “Problogger: Secrets for Blogging your Way to a Six-Figure Income”. I know the title’s a little shady for most archaeologists, but Rowse and Garrett have some very good tips for building your blog:

1)  Focus, Focus, Focus— Remember those keywords I’ve been harping about for the last couple weeks? Those are the terms and concepts you want to highlight in your blogging. In addition to creating a personal brand, you’re demonstrating proficiency in a certain niche within archaeology. Maintaining a focused blog is also important for your SEO and it makes it easy for your readers to know what you’re all about.

The Succinct Research blog is focused on disseminating information about cultural resource management archaeology and historic preservation to practitioners and students of those fields. I target some specific keywords in my blog posts that help searchers find me in search engines. Focusing on keywords also helps distinguish the Succinct Research blog from other archaeology blogs because its niche is cultural resource management archaeology. The keywords not only help differentiate this blog from others, but it also makes it unique within the blogosphere.

2)  Know your audience— Your blog may be the lynchpin in your personal brand; however, it is very important to think about who your readers will be. Who are you trying to reach? What are these people’s interests? What is their demographic (professors, CRM principal investigators, archaeological technicians, community activists, ect.)? Most of us will blog about aspects of archaeology that interest us and that we have experience with, such as forensic anthropology, classical archaeology, prehistoric North America, or, in my case, cultural resource management. Think about the concerns of practitioners of those fields and address them with your blog posts.

3)  Provide unique, useful information— People use the internet because they are looking for information and entertainment. The easiest way to write posts that other people want to read is by creating useful information in your own unique way. This may be easier said than done, but it should be the goal of every post you write. Also, if you’re using your blog for personal branding, you should be doing the writing. It’s more than okay to have guest posts on your blog (see below), but you need to be doing most of the writing unless your blog is a collective.

(FYI: Email me if you ever want to guest post on this blog. Let’s talk.)

Unique content means stuff you thought up or your take on things you’ve heard about. Google and other search engines hate plagiarism and will sandbag (bury your site out of web search results) if you copy and paste stuff from other blogs.

4)  Know how people consume online content— Very few people will ever read every single word of your blog posts because people scan online content. We fast forward videos past the opening and ending credits. We skip songs we don’t like. And, we skim online articles, including blog posts.

You need to create skimmable posts in order to make things more digestible for your readers. Use bold, italics, all caps, and dash marks to separate sentences and themes in your posts. Use plenty of different headings and subheadings. Readers love numbered and other segmented lists, so feel free to use them liberally. White space is one of a blogger’s best friends. Make sure to use ample white space between ideas in order to give the reader a break and encourage them to read on.

5)  Use titles to entice and for SEO— Blog readers have a lot on their mind and too much information constantly flooding in through their phones, tablets, email inboxes, and computer screens. It’s a noisy jungle out there and you have to find a way to cut through the haze.

The best way to grab attention is through the titles of your blog posts. You already researched your blog’s focus and audience, now you’ve just got to get them to click on your stuff. There are dozens of “how-to’s” on blog title writing, so I recommend you just Google it. But, I’ve learned that short, somewhat provocative titles grab attention best.

6)  Tell a story in the first 200 words— Human beings love storytelling. Opening up your blog posts with short stories that may interest your readers is something I firmly believe in. I most enjoy reading posts that start with a quirky tale or interesting aspect of life. The best bloggers skillfully employ this technique.

Your readers not only want information but they also want to be entertained, so give them what they want.

7)  Put keywords in your post’s title, first 100 words and last 100 words— Somewhere in that story should be one of the keywords you plan on targeting for your SEO efforts. In the old days, keywords in the title and first and last 100—150 words made your blog posts easier to index. Engines do a better job of scanning the whole post, but it’s still a good idea to make it easy for Google and put your keywords in prominent places.

With keywords, the adage: “Say what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you said,” still rings true.

Archaeology bloggers lead the conversation

Other Blogging Tips and Hints

There is no right or wrong way to blog as long as you’re connecting with your audience and providing useful information. There are, however, tips you can use to better connect with your audience and sharpen your blogging skills.

— Post frequently— At least a couple times a week.

— Write posts of different lengths— The most easily digestible posts are between 500 and 1,000 words. However, make sure to write longer posts whenever you want to really demonstrate your expertise. You should also think about turning your longer posts (2,000—5,000+ words) into white papers that can be available for download. Or, submit a long series of posts to a publisher as an eBook or paper book.

— Write all blog posts on a word processing program and back them up— Bad things can happen with computers, websites, servers, site themes, and other technogadgets. That’s why it’s best to write your blog posts in Microsoft Word or some other word processing software and back them up to an external hard drive or cloud drive. If your website gets taken by the internet gods, you need to have a way to recreate your blog.

— Backup your website— As with your blog posts, you want to have a backup of your website’s content. How you do this depends on the website platform you’ve chosen, so you’re going to have to search the internet for a tutorial on how this should properly be done. Basically, don’t trust the internet. Have your data backed up in multiple locations.

— Don’t forget other posting formats— Human beings are very visual creatures. Photos inserted strategically throughout your post can really add to reader engagement and make your writing more palatable.

Slideshows on Slideshare and PowerPoints are also a great way to mix up your blog posts and connect with different segments within your niche. Conference presentations are awesome material for your blog.

You can also turn your posts into a short video or screen cast. YouTube, Vimeo, and Metacafe in conjunction with computer webcams and smartphones make it very easy to create an informative video based on a blog post. In fact, the most popular bloggers utilize a diverse strategy of content creation that takes advantage of the different capabilities offered by pictures, slideshows, and videos.

— Make sure to insert Google Analytics code— Google is collecting data about your site all day and night. Fortunately, there is a free way you can access the information the search engines are amassing about your blog and website. You can insert a small line of code in the administration dashboard of your site that allows you to access some of this information. It’ll cost you nothing but a little time.

(FYI: I only know how this works for WordPress. Maybe one of you could fill me in on how it works for other blogging platforms.)

It sounds somewhat threatening, but it’s much easier than you think. You will need three things:

1)  A website

2)  A Google Analytics account (watch the video below to learn how to sign up for Google Analytics)

3)  A few minutes to add the tracking code to your website in the proper location (Watch the video below and learn how)

It will take a few days for Google to recognize that you’ve added code and start collecting data on your site, but, once it starts happening, you will be able to access a wealth of data. Adding analytics to your website gives you some pretty interesting information that you can use to better target your posts. You’ll learn which posts are most popular, what parts of the world your readers are from, what cities have the most readers, and how long site visitors spend interacting with your content. This is great stuff and it’s free.

— Link to previous blog posts— This makes your site look more robust to search engines. It’s also a good way to introduce new readers to things you’ve already done.

— Link to other websites/blog posts/articles— Connecting to other points on the internet makes your blog look more legit to Google. It also makes other bloggers aware that their content is valued, or, at least being read.

— Comment on other blogs and include a backlink to your blog— Backlinking (writing a guest post or comment on a website that has a URL link back to your site) can really help your blog rise in search engine rankings. Of course, there are a lot of bloggers that put senseless, backlinked “Great post!” comments on well-trafficked blogs but you don’t want to be one of those guys/gals. If you’re commenting for backlinking purposes, make sure you’re sincere and are helping further the conversation about that blog post. This common courtesy will be acknowledged by bloggers and it will go a long way toward establishing a relationship with the blogger and his/her audience.

— Make sure your blog posts have a widget that allow them to be shared on social media— Make it easy for your readers to share your work with their networks.

— Spread the word about your blog posts on social media yourself— If you aren’t already using HootSuite or another social media scheduling platform, you’re going to have to toot your own horn. Just make sure you’re advertising the content you spent all that time creating.

— You can’t please all of the people all of the time— Sometimes you are going to write things that people do not want to hear. In fact, if you blog for any significant period of time, you are going to write something that offends someone. It’s up to you how you want to deal with it. You can aggressively lash out (not recommended) or you can try and divert criticism into a productive dialogue (the preferred technique).

— Be the bigger person— If you’ve given inaccurate information, misquoted someone, or done something else wrong, be the bigger person and admit your mistake. You don’t have to write a whole new blog post, but you can easily add a note admitting that you were wrong and add the correct statement. Newspapers do this all the time. Bloggers should too.

— Courteously respond to comments, especially the negative ones— Make sure to always present yourself professionally on your blog. This means you may have to turn the other cheek when someone makes an unsavory comment about your blog post. Make sure to thank the commenter for “reading” your post, even if they didn’t actually read it. Never get into an argument in your comments with a “troll” (someone that writes provocative comments on blog posts and online articles just to get a rise out of people). Fighting with trolls never ends up well.

— MOST IMPORTANTLY: Don’t be shy. Do not be ashamed of your work Tell others about your blog if the conversation ever gets around to it. Remember, you’re simply giving your perspective and insights on a niche that is particularly close to your heart. Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve written. In fact, be proud that you’re dedicated enough to even write about what you feel.

There is a huge segment of the archaeology industry that is afraid of criticism. This is mostly an outgrowth of our culture of being the ultimate arbiters of the past— experts in past human behavior— and the fact that many archaeologists feel like public criticism and comments are thinly veiled attacks on their qualifications. We are all “A-students” and we hate being proven wrong, so many of us are afraid to risk making a mistake in public.

Other archaeologists believe blogging some form of lesser communication; it’s not as relevant as a journal article or book chapter. Well I’d have to say that archaeology blogging is MORE relevant than academic technical writing because it conveys messages in a vernacular style that is more appealing to almost every segment of society. Even professors read blogs, although they’re reluctant to actually write them. Archaeology blogging has taken the place of the working papers of yore. It’s not an inferior style of communication. It’s just a different, more real, sincere form.

This is one area where archaeology blogging can really have an impact because blog posts are “off the cuff”, informal, and should make archaeologists think. They are your gut reaction— the way you feel BEFORE you formally hone and present your final interpretation. The best blog posts incite criticism and comment. That should be your goal.

Build your audience through guest blogging

Building your Audience through Guest Posting

You can use all the tips and hints I provided above and it may take months or years for a significant number of people to read your blog. Why? Two reasons: It takes Google and the other search engines time to index your site and it takes time for the word about your blog to spread.

One easy way to spread the word about your blog is by guest posting on older, more established blogs. This is called guest posting and it can really raise awareness of your blog because you are being given an opportunity to access the audience of another blogger with more readers and more authority. While this is a great way to build your audience, it has really been abused in the past and some of the biggest archaeology bloggers no longer accept guest posts. Guest posting is done on a case-by-case basis and it all depends on the blog manager as to whether or not your guest post gets accepted.

With guest posting, it’s important to remember that you are being given a gift— the privilege of presenting your ideas to an audience that another blogger has spent years building. Bloggers really care about their audiences. They want posts that will inform and entertain their readers because it helps build their own personal brand, so any invested blogger will reject a blog post that diminishes the prestige of their blog.

Also, as with most things in life, the internet/blogging game can be somewhat like a popularity contest. Bloggers with large audiences are usually not interested in guest posts from bloggers with smaller audiences because your post is not likely to attract many additional readers from your audience, because you have no audience. The most influential bloggers have dozens of guest post offers each month or week. They are most likely to accept guest posts from other bloggers with similar sized audiences or individuals that submit awesome material. This is not necessarily the case with archaeology blogs because our audiences are comparatively small, but my guest posts for certain sites have been turned down many times. Sometimes it was because of my style. Other times it was because my post didn’t fit the demographic of that site. But, I’m fairly positive that other times my post was refused because my blog audience was too small.

Here’s a major strategy you can use to make guest posting work for you. As long as you know the audience of the blog where you want to guest post and you write a killer, interesting, unique, informative, and entertaining post, this technique works like clockwork.

This strategy was originally revealed by Grant Hensel on the Writers In Charge website (

Here's a strategy archaeology bloggers can use to increase traffic to their site

Guest posting depends on several elements in addition to the strategy posted above. Here are some tips I’ve used to land guest posts on various blogs:

— Remember, guest posts make things easy for bloggers— It takes some significant effort to create quality posts, so a great guest post is a total gift. Most bloggers like and dream of guest posts. They want you to write for them.

— Bring your A-Game— High quality articles are more likely to be accepted for guest posts than ones you didn’t really put much effort into. So, put some effort into the work you do for others.

— Write to your host’s audience— You may have an excellent idea of what your readers want to hear, but you really need to pay attention to the blog posts and comments on the website where you’re pitching your guest post. What are their questions and concerns? What do they want to know? What are the most frequently discussed topics on that blog? Your guest post needs to address those questions.

— Be aware of your host’s blogging style— What is the length of post they tend to publish? Do they enjoy videos or slideshows? Do they like funny posts or write in a more formal, academic style? Is this blog conversational, informative, or totally random? These are important questions to answer. Don’t submit a 5,000-word post to a site that typically publishes posts that are usually only 750 words long. Know your host’s style and you will have a better chance of landing a guest spot.

— Include the entire post’s text in your email solicitation— The most influential bloggers get a lot of guest post offers, so you need to make things easy for them. They are unlikely to open a Microsoft Word document from someone they don’t really know, which means you should insert the entire text to your guest post when you email them asking to be a guest on their site. They’re more likely to accept if they can see you’ve already written the post and it looks appealing to them.

— Surrender creative control— Your post is a gift to this blogger with whom you’re trying to establish a relationship. Don’t be surprised if they do some limited edits to your submission. It’s their blog and you are a guest. Now, it’s not okay for them to totally change the whole document to the point where it’s no longer your creative work. If that happens, ask them to take it down. But, don’t be surprised if they make some minor edits.

— ALWAYS INCLUDE A BIO WITH A LINK TO YOUR BLOG— The main reason you’re writing guest posts is to get people to read your blog. That’s why it’s absolutely imperative to create a short bio about yourself that includes a backlink to your blog. And, until you get a sizable audience, don’t guest post on websites that don’t allow backlinks. It’s a waste of time if you’re trying to grow your blog.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Blogging is the centroid in my personal branding campaign. I have been able to connect with a number of other archaeologists, students, and avocationals simply through the posts I write here and on other websites. Since the goal of personal branding online is to define your reputation as a professional, blogging provides unparalleled opportunities to do exactly that. This is a space where you can share your thoughts, ideas, and theories in your own voice. You can connect with others in a person-to-person way that isn’t possible using most other formats.

Most importantly, blogging allows archaeologists to convey complicated ideas in a language that everyday laypeople can understand. This is crucial because our science has suffered from a lack of connection with the outside world. People use the internet and the information contained on blogs supplements the news media and academic journals, which have previously been the official channels through which information is conveyed. Blogging should be embraced by cultural resource management archaeologists, especially, because it enables us to explain exactly what society is doing to commemorate the past. This connection with the public is a value-added product that we really haven’t been selling to our clients.

Blogging takes time and only time can tell whether blogging is worth the investment.

What do you think? Are you considering starting an archaeology blog? What will you focus on? How do you plan on using blogging in your online personal branding efforts?

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get your blog up and running, write a comment below or send me an email.

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